Six out of ten U.S. children will have had tooth decay by the time they go to kindergarten. Tooth decay is one of the top infectious diseases among children, and its pain hinders many children from eating, speaking, playing, learning and even getting a good night’s sleep. And yet, it's nearly 100 percent preventable.

Decay trends

A child with a cavity-free smile has an easier time going to school and paying attention in class. (Dental problems cause 51 million missed school hours each year.) Children with healthy mouths have a better chance of overall health because infection in the mouth can make a child more susceptible to infections in other parts of the body, such as their ears, sinuses and brain.

“Early dental visits protect parents’ budgets, as well as children’s teeth.”

Tooth decay is not an equal opportunity disease. Children living in communities with water fluoridation typically benefit from a reduced tooth decay rate of about 25 percent. Family income is another factor. Children living in families with incomes below poverty level usually have more tooth decay than children from more affluent homes. Race and ethnicity can be factors, too. Hispanic and black children tend to have more cavities than white and Asian children. In addition, children are more likely to have tooth decay early in life if their parents have a history of cavities.

Don’t delay

Although there are many risks for tooth decay, there is one particularly valuable solution: a dental home early in life. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that every child establish a dental home by their first birthday, advice endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Many parents think putting off a dental visit will help stretch their paychecks. The opposite is true. Early dental visits protect parents’ budgets, as well as children’s teeth. On average, kids whose first dental visit is at four years or younger have a total dental cost of $360 less than children whose first dental visit is older than four years.

Schedule a dental visit early. It can mean more money left over for favorite toys and maybe even mom’s cell phone.